SMALL INVESTMENT – LARGE RETURN
many businesses are not experiencing the success they would like. Amidst the increasing availability of a wide range of tempting destinations, media led refinement of tastes, and the far reaching economic squeeze, questions are being asked: What will keep people interested in coming to the island? What kind of tourism do we want? And how can those who have invested in Ibiza’s main industry continue to flourish?
Mandy Hayes is someone who has lived through and observed many changes. Her childhood playground was a cluster of family owned bars and restaurants, and the two hotels built by her father, in what was then the sleepy village of Es Canar. As one of a new generation of owner/managers, she has successfully reinvented her main business on Es Canar’s now busy beach front, transforming it into a distinctive chill out lounge with two poolside restaurants. This has created a new and prominent landmark – and a space she hopes will help return Es Canar to some of its former beauty. An increase in business, comments from happy customers and her own personal satisfaction tell her that her efforts have been worthwhile. Mandy is aware that on the whole, it is the establishments which fail to respond to what customers really want that are struggling, whilst those offering better quality or innovation continue to thrive. Whilst recognising that the opportunities and challenges for each business are different she has contributed some excellent suggestions as to how others can flow with changing expectations and improve business – mostly without spending money!
AMBIENCE_ Mandy believes that subtle use of lighting, appropriateness of music, and an inviting colour scheme can completely change the ambience of a place at very little or zero extra cost – often just the cost of a pot of paint, some new cushion covers, and a few lightbulbs. Clearly, there is no “right” style. Some of the most successful restaurants in Ibiza are simple and rustic. Spending more on decor is no guarantee of success – but for those who do want to invest, a wide variety of styles can work provided they are done well. Mandy suggests looking around at other establishments, and exploring a few lifestyle books and magazines to see what is popular and appealing. Another highly effective way to improve ambience and attract new customers is to hold ongoing art exhibitions. Ibiza is full of accomplished artists who would be delighted to have a public exhibition of their work. Over the years, many beach front and town centre establishments have opted for glaring lights and the type of cheap plastic furniture which cannot by any stretch of artistic licence be considered attractive or inviting. Mandy points out that it is possible to lease a wide range of furniture and equipment by obtaining a “LICO” – a bank loan with a very low interest rate. The loan payments can then be deducted from the tax bill.
FOOD_ If food is your speciality, it’s important to keep up with changing tastes and to have a good variety of options. Mandy believes that “Buying a cook book is one of the cheapest and most effective investments a restaurant can make”. She sees innovation in the kitchen as an essential skill – “changing and varying the menu doesn’t cost money it just takes a little imagination”. Many visitors to the island are disappointed to find that not only is it difficult to find authentic local cuisine in the beach resorts, but that the options offered are a predictable, lifeless, and outdated interpretation of what people want. In addition, more and more people are becoming health conscious and often appreciate options in this area – for ex. fresh vegetables and potatoes, or creative and inspiring salads instead of chips with everything. “The key is to offer a wide range of choices.’” Mandy’s menus for ex. include: Arabian tea, homemade burgers, wok dishes, paella, Thai fusion, fish and chips and fresh fruit smoothies.
STAFF_ Good staff can make or break a business – therefore employees need to be selected well, trained well and treated well. Mandy believes that “in a place like Ibiza, good language skills are also a big bonus”. In my own experience as a restaurateur in the UK, I only employed people who had a pleasant attitude. I also found it helpful to spend time doing every job – it is good to genuinely know what it is realistic to expect, and therefore not to expect too much or too little. Many restaurants are restricted in the amount they can pay, and this can affect motivation. By improving systems and training, it may be possible to have fewer staff working happily and more efficiently on a higher wage. If staff are happy and well trained they are much more likely to give good service. Other ideas to boost morale might include occasional staff meals or parties; meetings to air ideas and grievances and even some kind of profit share or bonus scheme.
EFFICIENT SYSTEMS_ Not everyone who sets up a restaurant has the particular skills needed to put in place the efficient systems that can be vital for its success – but it is worth investing in training or getting someone on board who can do this. Efficiency in every area saves money and improves service.
EVENTS_ Holding events can be a good way to attract new customers. As Mandy says “your imagination is the only limit”. She is the main sponsor of an orphanage in Cambodia, so proceeds from her own events mainly go towards supporting this.
HELP_ As well as the “LICO”, there is various help available for the small business: for example “PIMEEF” is an organisation which dispenses the government offer of a 4 year interest free loan to buy a computer (for example) – this can make it easier to keep track of profit margins and best sellers and enables computerisation of accounts. Mandy also recommends regularly enquiring in the local Town Hall or Gestoria in order to stay up to date with governments grants and other assistance.
WHAT COUNCILS CAN DO_ Undoubtedly, many councils could be more helpful in the support of local businesses. For example, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that they should “start any major works at the end of a season and not at the beginning”. Mandy also feels that the rules around live music are unnecessarily restrictive and is aware that many people find it difficult to travel to few the venues which do have these permissions due to drink driving considerations and the low availability of taxis. On the positive side, there is a current scheme for pedestrianisation in Es Canar, which she believes will be helpful in making the area more attractive.
It is easy to forget that prior to the emergence of tourism, and with no significant export product, most people on the island lived what can only be described as subsistence lifestyles. As the underlying situation has not yet changed, Mandy believes that councils and individual businesses need to work together to protect and develop a more sensitive type of tourism that delivers what people want and complements the natural beauty of the island.
Text: Helen Howard